What can I do for extremely dry hands?

Hands of a 50-year-old- caucasian woman, close-up.
Skin Problems Image Gallery Hands often become drier with age. See more pictures of skin problems.

When you're younger, the formula for keeping your hands clean is simple: soap and water. But as you get older, you may find that the old routine seems to cause more harm than good. A simple soap-and-water wash can leave your skin dry and tight. And frequent washing and exposure to other chemicals can wreak havoc on your hands. Furthermore, sensitive skin is even more susceptible to flakiness, redness and cracking if it's too dry.

If you have sensitive skin, you need to be even more careful about the cleansers you choose. Soaps containing fragrances or other similar ingredients can be too harsh on your hands. Many manufacturers now offer products that leave out artificial colors, scents and other irritating ingredients.


If you take these steps but find that your hands are still dry, using a liquid soap with moisturizer can be helpful, but in some cases it's still not enough. Dermatologists recommend using a moisturizer every day, and not just throughout the day. You can also apply it right after you get out of the shower to lock in as much moisture as possible, and applying some right before going to bed can help, too. You can also trying covering your palms and fingers with a petrolatum- or oil-based lotion after washing.

The key ingredients in moisturizers are humectants and emollients. Humectants, which include urea, glycerin, alpha hydroxy acids, and lanolin and mineral oil, hold moisture in the skin and absorb water from the air. Emollients, which include lanolin, minteral oil and petroleum, replace lipids and smooth out the skin. Keep in mind, however, that some moisturizers may contain fragrances, and almost all have preservatives to prevent bacterial contamination. These are the two most common skin irritants in moisturizers, so stop using a product if you notice any adverse reactions. [source: Mayo Clinic]

Simply adding moisturizer to your cleaning routine can change the way your skin responds to dryness, no matter what season. For lots more information on skin care, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Bruno, Karen. "Women's Hand and Nail Care." Aug. 7, 2009 (Sept. 11, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/advances-skin-care-9/strong-nails-hands
  • Mayo Clinic. "Moisturizers." Dec. 16, 2008. (Sept. 11, 2009)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/moisturizers/SN00042
  • Medline Plus. "Chapped Hands." Nov. 16, 2008. (Sept. 11, 2009)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002035.htm